John Cameron Mitchell as Hal in the 110th episode of The Sandman. chrome Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix © 2022
John Cameron Mitchell, best known for directing and co-writing Hedwig and the Angry Inchplays Hal Carter in the Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. We had the opportunity to sit down with him to talk about his character. how was his experience filming the series and how excited he was to sing Stephen Sondheim songs Gypsy.
Disclaimer: This review features mild spoilers for the first season of The Sandman. Additionally, the following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
GVN: What can you tell us about your character, Hal, and how you got involved with the show?
John Cameron Mitchell: Well, I mean, this is kind of pertinent because Sandman, vigilantesY the invisible They were the great alternative adult comics, you know, of the 90s and 2000s. And they launched a thousand ships, right? Y vigilantes he eventually found his way into a bad movie and a good TV series. the invisible it hasn’t gotten there yet. And, you know, I love the invisible. Grant Morrison is a genius. And Neil, I love it so much too, because I adapted one of his short stories for a feature called How to talk to girls at parties.
So Neil and I have been friends for a while. And I just got offered this role of Hal. And he had read the books long before, so I had forgotten about that character. You know, he’s a, he’s a small character, but sincere. And the main reason why I did it is because I can make songs from Gypsy because one day I would like to play Mama Rose in a big production of Gypsy. So, it was my little audition. Unfortunately, I did all of “Rose’s Turn,” but they only used five seconds.
GVN: Oh no.
John Cameron Mitchell: Yes. But they got “Everything’s Coming up Roses” in most of its entirety. And I really had a great time. I loved Allan Heinberg, the creator. It’s a lot of moving parts, and you see wonderful actors who only have a little, you know, a couple, maybe even an episode or two episodes. Therefore, he is full of talent. Allan and Neil are trying, and I think successfully, to walk a line between this kind of pure fantasy and adventure, you know, maybe more in the doctor strange realm, which I also loved as a child. But also to balance that, which you don’t usually have as much in these stories, a real, emotional metaphor of the dream. And what does a dream mean? Is it something you want?
You know, Desire, played by Mason Park Alexander, who was actually Hedwig in our Broadway touring production. [of Hedwig and the Angry Inch]he says, “There is no dream without desire or despair. It is a correlate. We are more important, Desire and Desperation, and Sueño is an echo of that”. And that’s interesting.
You are working the metaphor of a dream in many different ways. And nightmare, dream, things you want, things you fear. And even at all times, you’re like, “Well, what does Dream do, what does he do?” You know, we don’t always think about the Greek god of dreams. We think of the Greek god of sex, love, power or art. But he is funny. It’s like Dream is so slippery, and that allows for so many possible ways to tell a story. And, you know, it’s packed. And some people may not have the stamina to follow all these lines. But I really think Allan is making it work.
I feel moved, especially for that third episode, when Constantine’s girlfriend dies. And these things that we want, you know, we want a relationship that lasts forever, and Dream says, “Love doesn’t last forever.” But he gives you the dream that he could, as you die. He is very philosophical in his way. In addition to having a fun villain, Corinthian, who is played by a wonderful actor [Boyd Holbrook]. I even got to flirt with him in one scene. It is a very rare series, as you can see. It’s even weirder than the comic, which I love. Then why not? The Sandman comes from the same Earth as Kate Bush, and Siouxsie Sioux, and the New Romantics, you know? It all stems from that pansexual, pangender feeling of the ’80s. And I like that they mixed it up racially, gender-wise, sexually-wise. It just feels natural.
GVN: I think that’s what I find most interesting, all the ways they’re tweaking and updating the source material for now.
John Cameron Mitchell: Yes.
GVN: Did you have any concerns when accepting the role?
John Cameron Mitchell: No, why should I?
GVN: That seems fine to me.
John Cameron Mitchell: Not really controversial in my opinion. I was happy to do it. You know, it was a good job to have in the middle of COVID as well, because they were just starting production again on the shows. I did the show Strident, which returned when they restarted production about six months after the closures. And then I went to London to do this. I mean, London was pretty shut down, so it was a bit gloomy. But I hung out with good people and enjoyed all my co-stars. And, uh, what’s his name? He plays Gilbert…
GVN: Stephen Fry.
John Cameron Mitchell: The great Stephen Fry, I was able to hang out with him.
GVN: That’s exciting.
John Cameron Mitchell: I know. He is the best in England, you know. He is like Catherine Deneuve from France. He is Oscar Wilde reincarnated. And then he was actually there when I auditioned for Joe vs. Carole. So, I went straight to Australia to shoot that.
GVN: Oh, that’s a busy few months there.
John Cameron Mitchell: It is a very busy year.
GVN: How do you approach getting into the mindset of these different roles? as Hal in Sandman, or as your character in Joe vs. Caroleor even as Hedwigs.
John Cameron Mitchell: Well, I like to do many things. But one thing, I realize, inherent in what I do is being a host. It means bringing people together, making them feel comfortable, encouraging people to do their best for the party. And that’s what a director does. And that’s what, in a way, Hal does. He is the best host. He created this guest house, you know, for fans in Cape Kennedy, which is unlikely. But no one belongs there. And his dream, of course, is to go to Broadway and be a big female star in a way that wasn’t possible at the time.
And I knew it myself, you know? I did Hedwig back then with no hope or prayer of being on Broadway, or being nominated for a major award, because drag and punk didn’t have a seat at the table. They were considered lower class, you know? And, of course, there’s nothing more Broadway than drag, and there’s nothing more exciting than punk. and Stephen Trask [co-writer of Hedwig and the Angry Inch] and put all those things together to create Hedwigthat it was eventually welcomed on Broadway because the world changed, not because we changed.
So, it’s interesting. I’m playing an alternate version of myself if I hadn’t stuck it out in New York, you know, and done our thing. And in doing Hal, the main attraction was being able to do these songs from Gypsy because I would like to play Mama Rose one day in a big production.
Season 1 of The Sandman is now available exclusively on Netflix. Our thanks once again to John Cameron Mitchell for taking the time to speak with us.